Words || Erin Christie
The 2018 Netflix original, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, is kind of what I expected it to be: nothing earth-shattering, but maybe a little bit nice. However, these nice, solid moments, often full of believability and relevance, are interspersed with a plot that’s somewhat unbelievable and definitely frustrating.
High school ‘loser’ Sierra Burgess is a traditional addition to the trope. She does not meet typical beauty standards; represented as a curvy girl with frizzy red hair and out-dated glasses. Despite this, she has incredible wit and seems rather charming. Her ‘water off a ducks’ back’ attitude toward the classmates that insult her is what first caught my attention in the film. I liked the idea of someone truly unfazed by looks and vanity, who drew her strength from smarts and talent. However, for her to remain that way would be too much of a deviation from the classic ‘high school movie.’ Sierra is bullied mostly by Veronica, the stock-standard ‘mean girl’ and head cheerleader, who rips up Sierra’s flyer for tutoring services, and gives the listed phone number to a cute, unassuming boy who approaches her.
The high school heartthrob, Jamey, then begins texting Sierra, thinking she is Veronica. Hilarity ensues, because Sierra is smart and brilliant and kind, and not what Jamey expected because Veronica is pretty, and a cheerleader, and my god this whole thing is just overflowing with stereotypes that gross me out so hard.
Nice, solid moments, though – I did promise you some of those. The film has this slight focus on female friendship that comes across as pretty sweet. As Sierra falls harder and harder for Jamey, she asks for Veronica’s help to keep up the pretense that he is talking to her instead of Sierra. In return, she tutors Veronica, so that she can impress her college-age boyfriend, Spence. There are some super brief, Bechdel-test passing moments where they’re discussing Dorian Grey and Hamlet (do fictional men count in the Bechdel test?). Veronica also opens up to Sierra about her youth-obsessed, controlling mother, who only encourages her to find a hot boyfriend, instead of to study hard for school.
Sierra’s relationship with her parents is also represented quite complexly. Her dad is a successful, showy writer, who tests her constantly on famous literary quotes. He pressures Sierra to show him her writing, and in a nuanced and sweet scene, she breaks it to him that growing up in his shadow has been terrifying for her. Her mother is a small, blonde woman who writes self-help books. At the crux of the film, Sierra accuses her mother of not understanding her sadness, due to the fact that she is tiny, and pretty, and lacks an understanding of what it is like to go to school every day looking as Sierra does.
These things aside, I remain unimpressed. Sierra does some super unforgivable things, which boil down to her feeling unattractive and uncomfortable in her own skin, despite a set-up that shows her to be mentally way above those who bully her, or think that her looks carry any relevance. This weirdness is also represented as the reason she is forgiven for doing said unforgivable things, and also because (spoiler alert), Jamey is a Nice Jock ™ who realises he’d rather have a nice girl than a pretty cheerleader.
If I sound a little scathing, it’s because I am. However, the film is interspersed with moments that are funny and fluffy, backed by heartening music, and a finale in which Sierra writes a song about being a Sunflower, rather than a Rose, and how maybe if she was a Rose, she’d be picked (by Jamey). All of this trash is designed to make you feel the feels, and it definitely worked on my susceptible little self. So, if you’d like an easy watch that won’t change your life, then Sierra Burgess is a Loser is the Netflix flick for you.